What is a Career?

Posted Monday, November 12, 2012 at 1:10 PM

"You have probably heard the word “career” a number of times in your life. It has been mentioned by your parents, older friends, on TV shows or even on different websites."

What is a Career?

PostedMonday, November 12, 2012 at 1:59 PM

What is a Career?

Authors:  Gina Adam and Cheryl Moy

You have probably heard the word “career” a number of times in your life. It has been mentioned by your parents, older friends, on TV shows or even on different websites. You have also heard the word “job” or “occupation”. But do you know what all these words mean? Take a minute to write down your answers to these two questions:

  1. What do the words “career”, “job”, and “occupation” mean to you?
  2. What do you think is the relationship between them?

Please go ahead and do this.  We will wait... Good! Now, actually you will be surprised to hear that there is no universal definition for the word “career”. Different people might have different ideas of what defines a “career”. Its meaning also evolves with society, and can vary depending on one’s geography and culture.

The whole picture gets even more complicated when you start thinking of the differences between the words, “career,” “job,” and, “occupation.” So let’s see what these three words might mean and the relationship between them.

A JOB is a position for which you receive pay. Example: Process engineering consultant at XYZ company.

  • Requires specific skills and attributes to perform specific tasks
  • Can be part-time or full time, short or long duration
  • Can be in a company or self-employed

An OCCUPATION is group of similar jobs found in various industries and companies. Example: Process engineer

  • Advanced degrees or vocational training provides knowledge for an occupation (with a Bachelor degree in process engineering, you get the training to become a process engineer, but you might also acquire some expertise in safety and health engineering or industrial engineering)
  • People with the same occupation can have different jobs and careers (for example a person with a degree in process engineering can work as a process engineer in a manufactory plant or as an engineering consultant in a consulting company)
  • People can change occupations (by receving retraining) or have multiple occupations (by having degrees and certificates in different fields, such as an B.A. in process engineering and an MBA)
  • Sometimes the same job can be held by people from different occupations  (for example Process Manager at XYZ company can be a process engineer or an industrial manager by training)

Did you know?

The word “career” comes from 16th century French word “carriere” (road, roadcourse).


In 1805 it was used for the first time with the meaning “the course of the working life”.

The term CAREER was traditionally associated with paid employment and referred to a single occupation or the sequence of jobs one has undertaken. In today's world of work the term 'career' is seen as a continuous process of learning and development. It is not uncommon for people today to switch jobs or companies after few years, receive retraining and additional degrees, or develop more skills in multidisciplinary fields.

A career today could be defined as a lifetime journey of building and using your skills and knowledge, explore new experiences and integrating other aspects of your life (such as community work and leisure activities) into your work.

Are you excited about this fantastic journey that lies in front of you? Are you curious to see what opportunities are there for you? Are you afraid of not knowing where to start?

Stay posted and in the next article, we will talk about career planning.


Online Etymology Dictionary, Career 
My Future:  What is a Career
Queensland Government, DETE Education: What is a Career
Merced County Career Education Page: Five Principles For Career Planning